Nearly 70 percent of the population of Myanmar relies on agriculture for their livelihood. As many as half of them (an estimated 4 million families) are completely landless, and millions more farm with weak legal rights to the land on which they depend. Their tenure insecurity perpetuates the cycle of poverty, seeds conflict, and leaves families vulnerable to land takings by powerful interests. Especially vulnerable are forest dependent ethnic national populations and internally displaced persons, whose customary lands are insufficiently protected leaving these communities at risk of losing their traditional livelihoods and facing further displacement.
Recognizing the challenges this tenure insecurity poses to economic development and stability, the civilian government has prioritized land reform as central to its efforts boosting agricultural development of this fragile transitional state. These reforms take place under the framework of the new National Land Use Policy, including planning for a new National Land Law as developed by the multi-stakeholder, consultative process of the National Land Use Council.
Landesa joins international agencies, development partners, and civil society groups in supporting these reforms with technical assistance, and shares its international expertise as an advisor to government officials developing pro-poor and gender-responsive national land policies.
Landesa has trained hundreds of national and regional members of parliament on pro-poor land law frameworks, and hundreds more members of the executive branch on implementation of these frameworks. Along with other development partners, Landesa’s advice led to the adoption of the National Land Use Policy (2016) and the historic revised Community Forestry Instruction (2018), which together have set into motion protections for millions of lowland and upland farming families in Myanmar. These policies allow community stewardship of millions of acres of forestland, in turn providing an opportunity to protect critical wildlife habitat and to reduce climate change. Many challenges remain as Myanmar revises its land laws. Landesa strongly supports an inclusive, multi-stakeholder consultative process as the National Land Use Council guides the creation of a new National Land Law.
Myanmar’s efforts to eliminate landlessness began in earnest in 2016. In the first two years of these reforms, tens of thousands of landless families had become new smallholders. The majority of these families are farmers who lost their land decades ago under the former government. Prior to their land being returned, most had been living in extreme poverty often working as occasional agricultural labors. Many other families are ethnic nationals who had received secure rights to their traditional farmland through community forest certificates. More than 1 million acres of additional farmland and community forestland has been secured by the government for return, allocation, and formalization of the rights of current farmers and community forest dwellers. The government is working to secure an additional 2-3 million acres of unused farmland for return, formalization, and allocation to the landless.
Statement on the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law
Landesa strongly supports the National Land Use Policy (NLUP) which provides a framework for pro-poor, gender-responsive reforms protecting the customary rights of different ethnic groups and the land tenure security of all smallholder farmers in Myanmar. To carry forward these principles in developing a new National Land Law, Landesa also strongly supports the National Land Use Council (NLUC) and encourages its multi-stakeholder consultative process. In this context, Landesa shares the concerns of development partners, INGOs, and civil society groups around the newly amended Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law (VFV Law 2012, amended 2018), which allows for land concessions for smallholders and for agricultural investment purposes. Landesa agrees that the VFV Law should be suspended until the NLUC completes the development of a National Land Law, which will clarify the meaning and the role of the VFV Law.
Landesa shares the position of the Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT) on the VFV Law stated here. Landesa agrees that while that the newly amended law supports the objectives of pro-poor agricultural development in Myanmar by prioritizing landless citizens and smallholder farmers, the lack of a clear legal framework creates risks for its implementation. The VFV Law presents serious concerns for the rights of vulnerable groups living on customary lands, and the amended provision limiting the application procedure to six months raises further jeopardy for smallholder farmers. These concerns should be addressed through the NLUC development of a National Land Law.
Statement on Situation in Rakhine State
Landesa shares the deep concerns raised around the world about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State, in which hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority Rohingya have been displaced both internally and across the border into Bangladesh. While Landesa conducts no direct programmatic work in Rakhine State, the organization monitors closely the reports concerning displaced persons and refugees, including the reports by the UN Special Rapporteur and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as those by international NGOs and by the Government of Myanmar.
We strongly believe that upholding human rights, including respect for the rights of ethnic minorities, is a vital part of the democratic transition underway in Myanmar, and is essential to a lasting settlement under the national peace process. An immediate cessation of armed conflict and violence in Rakhine State, protections for all people of Rakhine State and Myanmar, including the return and resettlement of Rohingya refugees and communities displaced during the crisis, and addressing the root causes of underdevelopment and violence in Rakhine, are essential steps to ensure the safeguarding of human rights and a lasting peace in Myanmar. Landesa is committed to support these processes of peacebuilding and respect for rule of law and the human rights of all people in Myanmar.